THE PANAMA DECEPTION, filmmaker Barbara Trent's follow-up to the equally controversial COVERUP: BEHIND THE IRAN-CONTRA AFFAIR, is a shocking expose of the dark side of American democracy.
US intervention in the affairs of Panama dates back to 1902, when the Colombian government rejected a US offer for construction of a transisthmian passageway in Panama. As a result, Panama, with US military backing, revolted against the Colombian government, resulting in Panama's separation from
Colombia in 1903. Within a month Panamanian officials accepted an agreement that created a canal zone under the sovereign control of the US government "in perpetuity," and the Panama Canal was opened in 1914. In 1977, during the Carter administration, the Panamanian government and the US concluded
a new canal treaty, the key provisions of which included integration of the Canal Zone with the rest of Panamanian territory and full Panamanian control of the canal in the year 2000.
The film alleges that General Manuel Noriega, for years the CIA's primary contact in Panama, was known to be involved in drug and arms trafficking, yet George Bush, first as director of the CIA (appointed by President Gerald R. Ford in 1976), then as Vice President during the Reagan
administration, kept Noriega on the CIA payroll. Not surprisingly, given his US connections, Noriega became commander of the Panamanian Defense Forces, or PDF, in August 1983. Once in power, however, he cannily called for the cessation of US intervention in the affairs of Panama. In 1988, Noriega,
by then the de facto ruler of the country, was indicted in the US on narcotics charges, but he refused to submit to US demands for his resignation and instead introduced a new wave of brutal oppression.
In May 1989, Noriega annulled election results that showed him losing to Guillermo Endara, seizing ballot boxes and employing goons to beat the opposition candidates, themselves illegally financed by the US government, and assumed the role of dictator. After an unsuccessful coup attempt in October
1989, the United States secretly mobilized 26,000 troops for an attack, known as operation "Just Cause," and invaded Panama on December 20. During the next several days, Noriega was captured and later brought to Miami to stand trial on narcotics charges.
The film argues convincingly that, despite President Bush's excuse of wanting to protect American lives and restore democracy, the real motive was the US government's determination to retain a military presence in Panama--and the canal itself. To do so, it was necessary to crush the PDF, for how
can Panama ensure the future independence of the canal without it? Having invaded a heavily populated urban area, the US militia, by most civilian accounts, shot indiscriminately--though men between the ages of 15-55 were specific targets--and systematically burned buildings to flush out the PDF.
Clearly, "peripheral damage" was not a concern. The film also alleges that the Panama invasion was a testing ground for the Persian Gulf invasion--and new technological weaponry; many civilians claim to have seen victims literally melt before their eyes or spontaneously bleed from every orifice.
The US military took elaborate efforts to conceal the number of dead, going so far as to seize control of local hospitals and morgues. The US government claims that there were 250 civilian casualties; by most other accounts, that figure is closer to 4,000--an enormous human toll. The videotape
footage of mass graves being uncovered by stunned civilians months after the invasion is particularly damning evidence. Not surprisingly, Panama's white, English-speaking middle-class was largely unharmed.
Though widely condemned by the international community, the US action in Panama was barely criticized at home. But how much of the real picture did the American public receive? Trent argues that the American media were more than complicit; it's not just that the media act in the interests of the
corporations, the media are integral to corporate America. Not surprisingly, access by American journalists and photographers was tightly controlled; they were only taken to see what the US government wanted them to see. The American public, consequently, didn't know what had happened until it was
over. In addition, the Panamanian media were similarly suppressed, and any organization opposed to the US presence in Panama was destroyed.
The denouement? In 1991, US Congress passed a resolution to renegotiate the Panama Canal Treaty on the grounds that the Panamanian government could not adequately defend the canal, thus ensuring a continued US military presence into the 21st century. (Some violence, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: THE PANAMA DECEPTION, filmmaker Barbara Trent's follow-up to the equally controversial COVERUP: BEHIND THE IRAN-CONTRA AFFAIR, is a shocking expose of the dark side of American democracy. US intervention in the affairs of Panama dates back to 1902, when t… (more)